Down and Out
by Kathryn Leigh Scott
I’m an actor as well as a writer and in my novels I can’t help but draw on my theatrical training in developing a role. A character I’m playing tends to get under my skin and inhabit me, allowing me to see the world through different eyes and experience things with different sensory perceptions.
As a novelist, there are times when I really feel I’m living the life of the character I’m writing about.
In telling the story of Meg Barnes, whose newlywed husband turns out to be a conman in my book Down and Out in Beverly Heels, I felt her rage and humiliation at losing everything she had worked so hard to attain. When Meg is forced to live in her car (which she calls her “Ritz-Volvo”) I found myself imagining how I would turn my Prius into a living space with four wheels and a dashboard ― and even tried to spend a night parked at the curb of a Beverly Hills street to see how long I could manage it. I couldn’t help but wonder if, like Meg Barnes, I had an audition the following morning at Warner Bros., would I be able to use the public restroom in the park to groom myself – and make myself presentable enough that I actually got the role in the new television pilot!
Because the press, law enforcement and most of Meg’s friends in her showbiz world think she was in on the scam, she really has nowhere to turn. So I created the character of Donna, a wealthy woman who befriends Meg – and soon I started thinking of her as my own friend! She’s funny, sharp, quirky and becomes Meg’s sidekick as they track down the fugitive husband.
There was a point where Donna started taking over, actually elbowing Meg out of her own story. This happens when characters start telling their own tale and the writer’s outline and synopsis go out the window. I find this usually starts happening around chapter 6!
In this case, I just allowed Donna to run with it and let Meg deal with the fact that Donna was taking over, getting a bit too bossy and controlling. In doing so, I had real conflict that I could use to wonderful effect. Meg, after all she’s been through, is thin-skinned and not very trusting. But Donna, who thinks her own life is boring, sees nothing but glamor and adventure in Meg’s showbiz world.
The women manage to establish their own boundaries, with some hurt feelings and misunderstandings along the way. But when all seems lost for Meg, Donna comes through for her and the two become partners in a quest to track down the conman husband. There is an element of Thelma and Louise (though not so dire as to spoil a sequel!) because I wanted Meg to enjoy her moment of retribution when she confronts the man who put her in such dire straits.
I adore Donna! She’s everything I would want to find in a good friend. It was great fun writing the banter between these two highly independent, strong-willed women – but also discovering the bonds that deepen their friendship.
Meg finds a new romance in Down and Out in Beverly Heels – and now that I’m writing the sequel, I’ve found romance is blooming for Donna, too. These are women who met in adversity and found strength in each other, which helped them to find it in themselves. They will be friends forever.
Kathryn Leigh Scott is an actress, probably best known for creating the roles of Josette DuPres and Maggie Evans, the love interests of vampire Barnabas Collins in the cult classic TV show Dark Shadows. She wrote Dark Passages, a paranormal romance, with more than a passing nod to the ‘60s soap. She also appeared in the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton film Dark Shadows. She will soon appear in the feature film Doctor Mabuse, and is currently at work on a sequel to Down and Out in Beverly Heels.